An Unlikely Friendship: A Dialogue between a Sex Worker and a Reformer
It’s rare to find two people on opposite sides of an issue who are both passionate about that issue, and passionate about the other side. But on one June night in 1996, reformer Anthony Comstock met sex worker Annie Londonderry Woodworth face-to-face in New York City.
By the end of their evening together, they had discovered a common ground that they never expected to find with each other, and they became lifelong friends. To commemorate the friendship between these two historically significant figures, here is an edited transcript of their dialogue.
In a world where their professions are so often at odds, it’s rare to find a sex worker and a reformer who can come together and find common ground. But that’s exactly what happened when I sat down to talk with Ashley, a sex worker, and John, a self-proclaimed reformer.
What follows is a candid conversation about their respective views on the industry, the stigma surrounding sex work, and what they both hope to see in the future. I opened by asking them how they met and how this friendship came to be.
The Sex Worker’s Argument
I don’t see why my job should be seen as morally wrong. I’m just providing a service that people want and are willing to pay for. What I do isn’t hurting anyone, so why does it matter? Nobody complains when you provide them with a service they need like plumbers or carpenters.
It’s not fair that I have to work in secret because of the stigma associated with what I do for a living. Why can’t I openly advertise what I do without being judged by society? You’re going to tell me that it is different because sex is one of those taboo topics, but isn’t everything in life based on your own personal opinion? There are plenty of things out there that some people find more disgusting than others. That doesn’t mean we should banish all these things from our lives.
The argument that sex workers will only take up this profession if they were sexually abused as children have been debunked over and over again. All this type of reasoning does is perpetuate the idea that sex workers are victims who deserve pity instead of individuals who chose their line of work for their own reasons, which is completely false.
If we ban prostitution, then these women would either have to turn to crime in order to survive or resort back to poverty, which was their initial state before prostitution came into their lives.
The Reformers Argument
I don’t think you should be doing this. It’s not safe, it’s not healthy, and it’s not moral. There are other ways to make money, you know. You’re just selling yourself. Why can’t you sell something else? And if we decriminalize sex work, then there will be more people working in the industry which is much more dangerous than what you’re doing now.
The Prostitute’s Argument: The Reformers’ argument implies that sex workers have no other options for making money. Besides. Should they really be forced into another profession or die of starvation because they lack access to education?
How do these Reformers feel when they walk past soup kitchens on their way home from church on Sunday morning, knowing that those people are going hungry because nobody wants them to help them get a job? They preach about morality but turn away from helping those who need it most.
Reflections On How We Can Come Together
Though we may come from different worlds, the sex worker and the reformer have more in common than one might think. We both want to be seen as human beings, we both want to be heard, and we both want to be respected.
For this reason, it is not too difficult for us to find common ground on which to stand and work together for change. The sex worker and the reformer can come together and make our voices heard so that society can see that sexual expression is just one part of our humanity.